NIA Partners with Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute to Study Social Capital in Toronto

April 20, 2018

The NIA has teamed up with the Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute on a landmark primary research project designed to help us better understand the quality of social life and connectedness in Toronto.

The goal of the Toronto Social Capital Project is for Environics Institute to conduct a survey-based research initiative to map the level of social trust and community engagement among City of Toronto residents, which will provide the basis for building a stronger, more equitable and resilient Toronto. As part of the Toronto Foundation’s 2018 Vital Signs program, this study will be the first of its kind in Canada, and will make an important contribution to the future of Toronto in terms of:

  • Providing all sectors with an empirical basis for reviewing and building policies, initiatives and investments that strengthen the city’s social capital resources in ways that enhance the broader community; 

  • Identifying new areas of opportunity for addressing challenges and supporting positive change; 

  • Raising awareness of the importance and benefits of social trust, reciprocity and community involvement, so these are given a greater priority; and 

  • Establishing a benchmark against which progress can be measured over time.

The NIA’s particular interest in the study - made possible by a generous donation from the LIFE Institute - is Toronto’s ageing population: 426,000 older adults live in Toronto, representing 15.6% of the total population of Toronto. The LIFE Institute has partnered with the NIA to support the research and further extend the reach of the survey to include a more robust representation of older Toronto residents.

The NIA will build upon this study with our planned work on Age Friendly Communities (AFCs). AFCs enable all residents, regardless of age, to participate fully in the social, economic, and infrastructural life a city or community.

Social isolation is a growing concern among researchers and governments confronting the prospects of an ageing population. Social isolation decidedly impedes healthy ageing. Isolated seniors are at higher risk of elder abuse, are less physically active, and are at a higher risk of partaking in negative health behaviours such as drinking, smoking, and developing poor diets, according to a Statistics Canada report on social isolation. Increased risk of hospitalization also occurs with isolation and a constricted social network has also been associated with a higher risk of developing dementia.

A growing body of evidence suggests that building and preserving social connection, or Social Capital, is integral to healthy ageing. More research is needed to understand the scope of the problem and to develop policies and interventions that can build social capital among Canada’s growing older population.

Once complete in October, the Social Capital research will be widely shared and support investment in creating stronger networks and connections for residents, organizations, and community leaders in philanthropy, business, academia, and government, to collaborate on issues, as we navigate an ageing demographic.

Read more about the Social Capital Study here.

The National Institute on Ageing (NIA) is a university-based think tank focused on leading cross-disciplinary research, thought leadership, innovative solutions, policies, and products on ageing. The NIA’s mission is to help governments, health care systems, pension plans, businesses, and Canadian families to best meet the challenges and opportunities posed to ageing Canadians and by an ageing demographic. Follow us on Twitter and sign up for our mailing list.

By Michael Nicin, Executive Director, the National Institute on Ageing | Email:

Allan McKee